I recently read the article posted in the online magazine The Cut written by a 35-year-old-single woman who has come to the place of feeling like the choices she has made for her life have left her adrift. (Abri Nelson also offers a response here.) This woman, who calls herself “Haunted” in her signature, pursued what she thought would lead to life — a meaningful and significant career, adventures that would come by living in a multitude of cities with a variety of experiences. Instead of finding meaning, significance, and adventure, she found herself financially strapped, bored with her career, and feeling like her life “is a waste with nothing to show for it.”
But what struck me most was her acknowledgement of a deep loneliness resulting from the lack of relational connectedness. She states, “While I make friends easily, I’ve left most of my friends behind in each city I’ve moved from while they’ve continued to grow deep roots: marriages, home-ownership, career growth, community, families, children.”
While I am saddened by her account, I am not surprised. I’m saddened because I hear some of my own story in hers. While I didn’t pursue a career by moving around a lot, I did find myself in my mid 30s with life having turned out in no way like I had expected: I was single and felt a sense of rootlessness as well as bewilderment that somehow all of my friends had figured out how to find deep, meaningful relationships, and I had not.
I am also not surprised by her account because I don’t think the place in which she finds herself today is necessarily due to her marital status. In the January 11, 2019 issue of The Week news magazine, an article appeared entitled “An Epidemic of Loneliness,” describing the current widespread feeling of loneliness across our country, citing a study that found a staggering 47 percent of Americans describe themselves as lonely. It states: “One out of two Americans now falls into this category. In a recent study of 20,000 people by the health insurance company Cigna, about 47 percent of respondents reported feeling alone or left out. Thirteen percent said there were zero people who knew them well.”
These alarming numbers describe an epidemic that may not point so much to marital status but instead to a culture of relational disconnectedness in our society, the likes of which we’ve not seen before. Several years ago, Dale Kuehne, author of Sex and the iWorld, visited our church and led us in a weekend of seminars about the concept of relational well-being in our current culture. He made a statement that struck me: “The world is dying for relational hope. And that’s our territory.”
Really? The church’s territory? Is that territory that we would claim here at The Falls Church Anglican? I believe Kuehne was right – this is the church’s territory. But it raised all kinds of questions for me. Does someone who is “dying for relational hope” find it when they come to The Falls Church Anglican? Are we a faith community that amply provides relational hope to a visitor who walks in our doors? Are we a faith community that amply provides it to one another – do we as regular attendees find relational hope here at The Falls Church Anglican? Are we being good stewards of our “relational territory” for both our congregation and for the world?
I hope we’re always asking these questions as a church, and I hope we’re always pursuing avenues to make relational connectedness a virtue and value of our church culture. Yet I’m also aware of my own responsibility, in my own life, of taking steps for my own relational connectedness. The woman in this article from The Cut recognized her own agency in her current situation. Any steps toward a sense of belonging would require her intentional agency as well.
This was true in my own life. When my singleness continued into my early 40s, I was confronted with the fact that I might never get married, and that if I wanted to move into the last half of my life belonging to a family, I would need to make my church – The Falls Church Anglican – my family. How I went about this might be surprising: I looked for ways to serve and make others feel like they belonged. I really didn’t know any other way to do it. It just seemed to fit within the other upside-down ideas in Jesus’ kingdom: whoever is first must be last; the greatest must become the least; if you want to save your life, you have to lose it. If I wanted to belong, I needed to be a person who created an environment where others felt like they belonged. If I wanted to be known, loved, and cared for, I needed to know, love and care for others.
So I signed up to work in the kitchen and help make dinner for Cornerstone’s Senior Banquet. I started attending Kairos, the young adults community, to make myself available to encourage and support younger women. I attended women’s Bible studies with the hope of being a blessing to others. And after a long, slow, steady investment in giving my life away to others, I came into a sense of belonging in a family. It was not a result but instead a by-product.
I think everyone walks into a room asking the unconscious question: “Who is going to love and care for me here?” Imagine if this is the case, and everyone walks into the room this way. We’d have a room full of needy people! We’d have a room full of people, all of whom would be relating in such a way that communicates, “Meet my needs. Love me. Care for me.” We’d have a lot of self-preoccupied relating.
What if, instead, we all walked into the room asking the question, “Who can I love and care for here? To whom can I be a blessing?” It seems we’d be relating more in line with Jesus’ upside-down kingdom, laying down our lives with other-centered relating and making loving Him and others our highest priority. We’d be nurturing an environment where people dying for relational hope might actually find it. We’d become a place where the relationally disconnected could feel a sense of belonging. We’d be finding life as we laid down our own. And over time, we just might feel like we ourselves belong to a faith community that feels like family. Relational hope: it’s our territory. Let’s live it and lay down our lives so that our faith community is a place of relational hope for others.
Libby Cannizzaro served as the women’s ministry coordinator for The Falls Church Anglican from 2010-2015 and currently serves on our women’s teaching team. Before this role, she served for 21 years in Northern Virginia with Young Life, an international outreach ministry to teenagers. She met the Lord in Young Life as a teenager in Southern California and has had a passion for ministry ever since. She has been trained under Dr. Larry Crabb of NewWay Ministries' School of Spiritual Direction and has been trained as a lay counselor through Dr. Bill Clark's Lay Counseling Institute.